The Medanta hospital in Gurgaon claims to offer the very best in modern medicine, but for all that, it has a stark anachronism in its lobby: two floor-to-ceiling ‘Trees of Life’ in latticework, to which well-wishers tie strings as they pray for the quick recovery of patients. It’s a scene one would normally associate with dargahs rather than modern hospitals. Actually, this is quite in character with Medanta, where, in a unique experiment, cutting-edge medicine is being used in conjunction with traditional Indian healing and practices like yoga, meditation, ayurveda and even, it would seem, the power of prayer. Doctors at Medanta say they have seen patients recover faster than they do with modern medicine alone.
The idea, says Naresh Trehan, cardiac surgeon and chairman of Medanta hospital, is to combine the powers of modern and traditional medicine. “The former attacks the disease from the outside, while the latter acts from the inside by strengthening the body to fight it,” he says. “It’s like combining the powers of the army and the air force.” The hospital routinely uses ayurveda to complement the allopathic management of Parkinson’s disease and lifestyle-related diseases like high cholesterol levels and hypertension.
Research supports the use of this integrated approach. One of the problematic symptoms associated with the onset of Parkinson’s is the loss of the sense of smell: on a self-reported scale of 24, it often goes down to as less as four. Data from recent clinical trials has shown that nasya, an ayurvedic treatment in which Brahmi oil is trickled into the nostrils, significantly sharpens the sense of smell in patients with the disease. “Undergoing nasya for a fortnight helped bring the sense of smell back to as high as 24,” says Geetha Krishnan, an ayurvedic physician and senior consultant of integrative medicine at Medanta.
The study Krishnan quotes is being carried out on 42 patients by Ruhr University and Evangelisches, a hospital in Hattingen, western Germany. “This is a big thing,” says Krishnan, “for the German government has for the first time accepted, with this study, that ayurveda is a ‘researchable science’. It’s also the first time insurers in Europe are paying patients for ayurvedic treatments.”
Combining allopathic practice with ayurveda is not only hastening recovery, it is also seen to bring down costs.
Other preliminary tests have found that administering an ayurvedic formulation called dwipanchamooladi to patients with Parkinson’s, along with a regimen of yoga and diet management, reduces their dependence on dopaminergic drugs, prescribed for nearly all Parkinson’s patients, and antihypertensive drugs, which some of them have to take. If proved efficient, this intervention—which Medanta plans to replicate in a study of its own—will help substantially improve the management of Parkinson’s, a disease that presents a worrisome challenge to doctors, because dependence on medicines keeps on increasing as it progresses, reaching a point of counter-productivity.
An encouraging result Medanta has witnessed is in the post-operative recovery of its large proportion of cardiac patients, who are being administered the bark of the Arjun tree, again an ayurvedic medicine. Its use hastens the regeneration of blood vessels, difficult to achieve with allopathic medicine alone, but essential for healthy circulation. “Heart patients treated only with allopathic drugs during post-operative care were unable to walk for more than five minutes,” says Krishnan. “Treated with Arjun bark, they were able to walk for as long as 30 minutes.” Similarly, urovasti, a process in which dhanvantaram oil is pooled on the patient’s chest, is being used to boost circulation by improving the contraction of cardiac muscles.
Besides the advantage of speedier recovery and fewer side-effects, ayurveda is being used because it substantially brings down the cost of treatment. Allopathic drugs that help regenerate blood vessels, for example, cost the patient some Rs 90 per day, but Arjun bark “works better” at just Re 1 per day.
Krishnan also claims that the use of antibiotics for throat infections associated with coughs and colds can be brought down as much as 50-80 per cent by adding dasamoola-kadutrayam to the prescription. Washing non-healing ulcers with triphala, he says, cuts the cost of treatment to similar proportions.
Dr Trehan with Dr Geeta Krishnan (Photograph by Tribhuvan Tiwari)
Trehan refers to the current healthcare debate in the US to illustrate how even a developed country can face problems in delivering affordable healthcare. “With four times the population, and a far smaller health budget, our challenges are far greater than that of the US,” he says. “This means we must be far more creative if we are to offer the same living standards to our people.”
To take this effort further, Medanta is collaborating with the Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions, Bangalore. “They have a biodirectory of around 11,000 plants and have done a lot of research,” says Trehan. “With our upcoming facility here, we should be able to do the clinical work even better with them.”
The hospital is also finalising details of a trial that will analyse the efficacy of a homoeopathic drug commonly used for the treatment of angina. “We will analyse whether the drug’s efficiency, as homoeopathy claims, actually increases when it is more diluted,” says Krishnan. The study will be carried out with the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, which has the means to measure drug concentrations down to parts per million. The hospital is also exploring working with other schools of medicine, like the siddha school of Tamil Nadu, as also acupuncture and acupressure. A unani medicine developed by Jamia Hamdard University in Delhi for bringing down cholesterol levels is also awaiting tests at the hospital. “It has shown excellent results on animals, but we have asked for more detailed studies to establish its safety for human use,” says Krishnan.
G.S. Lavekar, a former director general of the Central Council for Research in Ayurveda & Siddha, says integrative medicine is fast gaining popularity. The Apollo Hospitals Group, too, has tied up with the Kerala Ayurvedic Centre to undertake research in ayurveda, allocating Rs 20 crore for the purpose.
“In the West, phytomedicine (the use of medicinal plants) is finding favour among many allopathic doctors, who are using both kinds of medicine,” says Lavekar. “In India, on the other hand, very few allopaths prescribe ayurvedic formulations. What they need is some training to help develop a truly integrative medical culture in India.”